Wednesday, June 29, 2011

4th of July Camping Menu

The 4th of July is a must-camp weekend for thousands of Americans, including us. These are some of our favorite campsite-friendly recipes that are suitably festive for celebrating the birth of our country, and take into consideration the need for easy preparation and cleanup. Enjoy them, and have a happy 4th!

Independence Day Supper for 8
(follow the links for recipes)

Warm Chips and Salsa*
Strawberry Lemonade*     Ice Cold Beer

For the *Warm Chips and Salsa, lay a sheet of foil on the grill and poke holes in it. Spread a generous layer of your favorite tortilla chips on the foil and warm them for about 5 minutes. Serve with your favorite salsa, homemade or store-bought. For the *Strawberry Lemonade, just add sliced strawberries to your favorite lemonade recipe. The pretty strawberry slices add a festive touch and a hint of flavor. (The rest of the recipes are linked.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Old School Homemade Ice Cream in Red, White and Blue

(From the 4th of July Camping Menu)

AKA Ice Cream in a Can

From The Real Family Camping Cookbook:

When you're making ice cream at the campground or at a cookout, you can buy one of those plastic ice cream maker balls (I think L.L. Bean carries them) or you can do it old school, like this. You'll need a 1 lb. coffee can and a 3 lb. coffee can - try a diner or a college cafeteria for the big one.  Or you can use a clean paint can the right size.

Serves: 8

1 ½ pints half and half
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. strawberries
3/4 c. blueberries
crushed ice
1-2 c. rock salt
1 clean 1 lb. coffee can with the plastic lid
1 clean 3 lb. coffee can with the plastic lid
duct tape

1. Put the half and half, sugar and vanilla in the 1 lb. coffee can and mix well. 
2. Put the lid on the 1 can and tape it securely shut with duct tape.
3. Put the 1 lb. coffee can into the 3 lb. coffee can and surround it with crushed ice and rock salt.
4. Put the lid on the 3 lb. can and secure it with duct tape.
5. Roll the can back and forth in the grass or other soft surface for about 15 minutes.
6. Take the small can out of the big can, wipe it clean and open it up. Scrape down the sides and add the strawberries and blueberries.* Tape it back up, pack it in the big can with more salt and ice and tape the big can back up. Roll for another 10 minutes or so.
7. Take the small can out of the big can, wipe it off and dish out the ice cream into bowls.

*When you mix the berries into the ice cream you get a beautiful, purple ice cream with red and blue berries in it. For a red, white, and blue effect, make vanilla ice cream and sprinkle the berries on top. And if you do this, you can use a lot more berries.

For the coffee can challenged:
If you don’t have coffee cans, use a small Ziploc bag inside a large Ziploc bag. Instead of rolling, shake the bags.

 “Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.” - Don Kardong

Back to the 4th of July Camping Menu.

Festive Side Dish: French Potato Salad

(From the 4th of July Camping Menu)

This is a simple potato dish that everyone loves. It's attractive and addictive and it just happens to be vegan.  Because olive oil is used rather than mayo, this keeps well on a camping trip or cook-out. Use a thin-skinned potato of any kind - as long as it doesn't have that thick, rough skin that baking potatoes have, it'll be great.

French Potato Salad

Serves: 8

6-8 large potatoes, thoroughly scrubbed and cut into bit-sized pieces
olive oil, about 3/4 c.
dried or fresh herbs to your taste, such as oregano, basil or parsley
salt & pepper

1. Thoroughly scrub the potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces.
2. Put the potatoes in a large pot of water, bring it to a boil, then generously salt the water.
3. Cook the potatoes until just tender, around 8 minutes but check them at 5.
4. Drain the potatoes in a colander.
5. In a large bowl, dress the potatoes with olive oil until each piece is lightly coated.
6. Sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper to taste.
7 Voila!

Return to the 4th of July Camping Menu.

July 4th Main Dish: Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

(From the 4th of July Camping Menu)

This is a simple and fun cookout dish. The catsup, tomato sauce, brown sugar and soy sauce combine to make a yummy, tangy barbecue sauce and you'll be surprised at how enthusiastic people get about it, especially since it's so easy (and *shh* vegetarian).

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes 

Serves: 8

1 large, yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T. olive oil
2 packages (12 oz each) TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein) – I like
MorningStar Farms Recipe Crumbles*
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
4 T. tomato paste
2/3 c. catsup
1/3 c. brown sugar
3 T. soy sauce
8 hamburger buns

1. In the bottom of a pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until soft.
2. Add the frozen TVP and sauté until lightly browned.
3. Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, catsup, brown sugar and soy sauce.
4. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens and the flavors are well combined.
5. Toast the hamburger buns and dish out a large spoonful onto each bun – about half a cup.
6. Bon Appetit!

*Because MorningStar TVP has egg whites in it, this is not a vegan dish. For a vegan version, try Bob's Red Mill TVP.  @brianelgin suggests using 1/2 t. of bullion with 1T. of  peanut oil when rehydrating the Bob's TVP for great ground beef replacement. Thanks, Brian!

Return to the 4th of July Camping Menu.

Monday, June 27, 2011

S'Mores 10 Ways

The perfect, Classic S'More.

(From the 4th of July Camping Menu)

We make S'Mores every night when we camp so we like to try different variations for fun. 

On the 4th, put all the ingredients out in separate dishes and let each person create their own masterpiece. Vive le difference!

S’Mores 10 Ways

1. Classic S’Mores

Legend has it that S'Mores were invented by the Girl Scouts, did you know that?

Serves:  8

8 graham crackers
8 marshmallows
4 Hershey’s milk chocolate bars
green, pointy sticks

1.  Toast each marshmallow on a long stick over the fire until it’s golden brown.
2.  Put a piece of chocolate on a graham cracker and put a hot, roasted marshmallow on top of the chocolate.
3.  Cover with a second graham cracker and smush together to make a S’More.
4.  Bon appétit!

2. S’Mores au Chois (“oh shwah”) – S’Mores Your Way

Instead of Hershey bars, substitute any kind of chocolate you like. My kids like Nutella. I like peanut butter cups.

3. Fruity S’Mores

Add some sliced banana or other fruit inside your S’Mores. We like sliced apples, strawberries and raisins.

4. PB & S’Mores

Spread the graham crackers with peanut butter before you add the chocolate and marshmallow.

5.  S’Mores in a Cone

Substitute an ice cream cone for the graham crackers – just put a piece of chocolate and a hot, roasted marshmallow inside. Mm.

6. Pie Iron S’Mores

Make your S’Mores in a pie iron with 2 slices of bread (buttered on the outsides) instead of graham crackers.

7. Brownie S’Mores

Substitute brownies or cake for the graham crackers! Is that sweet enough for you?

8. Bikkie S’Mores

Take a raw refrigerator biscuit – stretch it out and put a piece of chocolate and a marshmallow inside.  Wrap it in foil and cook it on the grill or directly on the coals.

9. S’Mores-adilla

Use a tortilla instead of graham crackers – sprinkle a tortilla with chocolate chips and mini marshmallows, roll it up and wrap it in foil. Place it on the grill until it's melted.

10. Quickie S'Mores

Put a marshmallow between 2 chocolate chip cookies, wrap it in foil and toss it on the grill or directly on the coals. Don’t leave it on too long!

“Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first.” - Ernestine Ulmer

Return to the 4th of July Camping Menu.

Main Dish: Marinated Flank Steak

Marinated flank steak is a great main dish that grownups and kids both like. It's delicious and seems to take a special effort, but actually it's easier to make than hamburgers.

From The Real Family Camping Cookbook:

Marinated Flank Steak

Flank steak likes to be marinated and kids like teriyaki sauce. 

Serves: 8

4-6 lbs. of flank steak
2 c. of teriyaki sauce
10 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
3/4 c. of pineapple juice
1/3 c. of brown sugar
6 T. of soy sauce

1.  Put everything except the steak into a large Ziploc bag and mix well.
2.  Add the steak and marinate - overnight, all day or at least for a couple of hours.
3.  Grill 3-5 minutes on each side.
4.  Slice the steak and serve with potato salad and corn.

“Give them great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will eat like wolves and fight like devils.”
- William Shakespeare, King Henry V

Friday, June 24, 2011

Our 8 Worst Camping Mistakes

Hm.. I wonder what that sign means?

Every camping trip is an opportunity to gain nuggets of wisdom by making mistakes ... and let's just say some of us have gained a lot of nuggets.

Here are our 8 worst camping mistakes, at least so far:

 1. Arriving late

There's nothing quite like setting up a big tent in the dark while three kids say (not in unison but repeatedly) "Can I have a S'Mores?" Cue the mosquitos. Seriously, I know it's hard to get out of the house, but get to the campsite by three. Then you can unpack while the kids play, make a big fire and locate the flashlights and the bug spray before dark.

2. Setting up in a valley

Each campsite has its own eccentricities and it's your job to figure them out. We once pitched our tent in what turned out to be the bottom of a little slope. It seemed inconsequential until it poured that night and the tent filled with water. A little rain is nice, but not on your feet at 4am.

3. Camping on a slope

Usually, when you choose a campsite with a tent platform, it means the site is built into a hill - thus the reason they put a platform there, to provide you with someplace flat to pitch your tent. Which is fine when you're sleeping. But the rest of the time you will find yourself, your kids and your belongings constantly rolling down the hill.

4. Being all relaxed about the tent zipper

I think the first thing we taught the kids was to CLOSE THE ZIPPER! on the tent, and we probably yelled it about a hundred times just to make sure we got our point across. And then ONCE we relaxed our vigilance - ONCE! - and spent the whole night swatting mosquitos out of our ears. Don't be like us. Be vigilant.

5. Not bringing enough warm things

We always bring plenty of things for the kids and they have warm sleeping bags but once we didn't bring enough blankets or clothes for the grownups and had to steal the children's little shirts to wear as hats. Nice.

6. Forgetting salt, coffee, tea, sugar or a corkscrew

It's a sad day when you can't salt your steak or open your wine. And for some of us, morning can be  bleak and meaningless without coffee.

7. Not hanging up the garbage

There may not be any bears near where you're camping, but I'll bet there are dogs or coyotes. There's nothing like meticulously picking up every little bit of foil or what-have-you to leave a nice, neat campsite, then coming back from your nature walk to find your garbage strewn all over the site. Yuck.  So bring a rope and tie the garbage up high to a branch.

8.  Disregarding posted signs

If the sign says, "Caution: Electric Fence" and has a big zig-zaggy lightning bolt on it, that probably means it's an electric fence. That doesn't mean, "Try it and see if it's an electric fence."  Zzzt!

Have fun, and as Sergeant Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) used the say on Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there!"

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Grilled Corn: A Husks-On Approach

(From the 4th of July Camping Menu)

 From The Real Family Camping Cookbook:

Besides being the most delicious thing in the world when it's in season, corn keeps well, making it a great camping food.

We like to cook it with the husks on (minus the silk).  It's fun to prepare and soak the corn and it always turns out perfectly.

Serves:  4

4 ears of corn, with the husks on
salt & pepper and hot sauce

1.  Leaving the husks on, remove the floss or silk from each ear of corn.
2.  Fold the husks back around the corn and submerge the corn in water to soak. After they have soaked for about 15 minutes, retrieve the corn from the water, wrap the husks around them more tightly, and place them on the grill, over medium heat, for 5-10 minutes.
3.  Remove the husks and serve the corn with butter, salt & pepper and hot sauce.

•  You can also take the whole husk off before grilling and wrap each ear in foil spread with butter or cream cheese.  These can go right on the coals, but keep an eye on them so they don't turn into ashes!

•  We put the ears of corn in a big pot of water and hold them underwater with a skillet, but you can also place them in a plastic bag and hold it underwater with a rock, especially if you’re camping near a stream.

“Plough deep, while Sluggards sleep;  And you shall have Corn, to sell and to keep.” - Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac

Return to the 4th of July Camping Menu.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Ultimate Summer Book for Little Kids

Because today is the first day of summer, I am reminded of one of my favorite, favorite children's book, Summer by Alice Low, illustrated by Roy McKie.

McKie is well known by the books he and Dr. Seuss created together, like 10 Apples Up On Top, In a People House, My Book About Me, etc.  All wonderful books.

But there's something special about Summer. The simplicity and sweetness of Low's poetry, coupled with McKie's joyful and innocent illustrations truly evoke the carefree summer days of childhood.

I encourage everyone to go out and buy a copy if you don't have one already - but get a vintage copy on eBay, because when they reissued it a few years ago they changed the colors and omitted a couple of key pages. (I don't know why some people think they can improve on perfection, but there you have it.) Anyway, there are plenty of decent copies of the old one to be had.

For a wonderful bio on McKie, go here: .  That site is and there's hours of fun browsing there.

Happy Summer everyone, and a special prize to anyone who reads this to their kids by the light of a firefly lantern.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Father's Day Lunch: Steak Salad

Our traditional Father's Day fare has always been boiled weisswurst (white veal sausage) with potatoes, carrots and cabbage and lots and lots AND LOTS of mustard.  I don't know how this tradition came about, maybe we discovered weisswust one Father's Day by accident - it's kind of hard to find. We used to buy it at Eagle Provisions in Park Slope but now we buy it at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens.

Anyway, this year, in a break from tradition, steak was requested. Sounds yummy, but it's been so hot and muggy in Brooklyn that the whole big, hot steak on a plate thing sounded kind of, well, hot. So I suggested steak salad, and I think it's going to be just the thing.  Serve this with crusty bread or toasted Portugeuse rolls and plenty of nice, cold beer.

Steak Salad 

On camping trips, this makes a delicious lunch on day 2 with your still-fresh lettuce and meat. Wash your lettuce at home, dry it well and pack it in a Ziploc bag with a paper towel to absorb any moisture.

Please note that the steak needs to freshly grilled. This is not a dish for leftover cooked steak.  

Serves: 2


2 cups of Romaine lettuce
a handful of sliced radicchio
1 small tomato, sliced thickly
1 perfectly cooked steak, still warm, about 16 oz.
olive oil & vinegar
salt & pepper

1.  Tear the lettuce into medium pieces and put it into a salad bowl with the radicchio and the tomato.
2.  Dress the salad with oil and vinegar and salt & pepper. 
3.  Salt and pepper the steak.
3.  Slice the steak and add it to the dressed salad. Toss very lightly, just a couple of times.
4.  Bon appetit!

•  We also like this with Iceberg lettuce and blue cheese dressing.

“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist - the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know how much oil one must mix with one's vinegar.”
-Oscar Wilde

Pete's All-Time Favorite Father's Day Gift

I was reminded by a friend to ask Pete his favorite Father's Day present of all time. To my surprise he answered that it was this commemorative groundhog plate.

I like how Pete looks a little scared in this picture.
I bought this plate at the Goodwill in Croton-On-Hudson, NY.  It was part of a seemingly complete set of woodland creature plates, but at four bucks a pop the set would have totaled about sixty bucks. So I chose the obviously best one, the noble groundhog, and proceeded on my way. That night I kicked myself for cheaping out and not splurging on the complete set. So the next day I sped back over to the Goodwill. Alas, the plates were gone! Another family had snapped them up and were probably displaying them in their living room (minus the groundhog). So let this be a lesson to all of us: when you find a complete set of commemorative wildlife plates, buy them all.

Nonetheless, because Pete is quite a groundhog enthusiast the plate was a big hit all by itself and has a proud place of honor somewhere around here under all the stuff.

Happy Father's Day to all!

And thanks for the great question,  PlaygroundDad !

PS. Fellow groundhog lovers should check out the gardening blog, LifeInTheGarden. That gardener also likes groundhogs, in spite of the fact that they eat everything.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Robert Solotaire's Art Studio

Guest Dad blogger Benjamin Solotaire submitted this photo of his own Dad's art studio in Portland, Maine. The late Robert Solotaire was a much-admired painter who gave us lush Maine landscapes, New York Cityscapes and large-scale industrial scenes. He had an unusual point-of-view, often viewing his subject matter from the back; a loading dock, a highway underpass, a patch of hedges unnoticed by others. This is a photo of the studio where he painted, in the overgrown backyard of his old house in Portland. Robert Solotaire's work can be viewed at I know that wasn't exactly wordless, but didn't you want to know?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Preparing My Son for the Urban Wild

by Andrew Hunter

It's Day 2 of our countdown to Father's Day, and guest blogger and new dad Andrew Hunter shares with us some big city survival tips. 

This morning, my son and I watched our first sunrise together. I am a new parent. So, lately, I have seen plenty of sunrises. But the one this morning was the first that my son showed interest in. He has just awaken from the fourth trimester so everything interests him these days. This morning after his 5 o’clock bottle he started to fuss because he wanted to sit up and look around. I positioned him on my lap to face our kitchen window. The sun started to peek over the church a few blocks away. I leaned over to look at him. He had his eyes set on the bright outline of the church spire and a big smile on his face.

As you might expect of a new father, when I saw his grin, memories of my own childhood discoveries of nature flooded my mind. Most of them were set in the mountains of Idaho, where I spent my summers. My grandparents had an A-frame cabin on a desolate lake in the Cascade Mountain range. My grandfather built it himself. He was a Depression Era child, the first modern do-it-yourself generation, and determined to teach his city grandson how to live off the land. He taught me how to build a fire out of what had fallen to the forest floor. He taught me which wild berries were good to eat, which ones were not, how to fire a rifle and roast food over a open fire. He even took advantage of the local kids’ tricking me into my first snipe hunt to teach me how to set traps for small animals.  

This all summed up to a rite of passage, a passing on of knowledge on how to survive when money was tight, even though he himself had flourished as well as any in the post war era and deep down he knew he and his family would have to fall pretty far to ever need to eat roadkill again. Thinking about this, I took stock of my own situation: well educated, well employed, living in a nice neighborhood in the best city in the world to live in, Brooklyn. I realized that my son would have to fall even farther than I to need the survival lessons my grandfather gave me. Instead of feeling comforted, however, I worried that I would not be able to assure that my own son experienced this rite of passage. I looked around my house wondering how I might teach Nico to use the resources that the concrete forest provided.

First thing, I figured, he’d need to know is how to start a fire. Right? Man first moved up when he learned to harness fire. But where the hell would I teach him to make a fire? I suppose I could cordon off a parking space on 5th avenue? Does the city not designate a day for taking over parking spots? For fuel, we could use an old Onion or Gotham Writers Course Guide, anything that we could grab from the free paper boxes on the street corner, or maybe the NY Times my neighbor always leaves in the lobby. The Sunday Times rolled up would make a perfect log! I’ll have to shred the Onion for pine needles. Roll up a half dozen Gotham Guides to look like twigs of kindling. I’ll hide the lumber under parked cars and tell my son, “Okay, Nico. First we start with pine needles. Go find me some pine needles.” And he’ll scavenge under the cars. “Time for the kindling,” and he’ll bring me the Gotham Guides. Before we light up our pile of metro news, I’ll warn him, “Now son, always make sure you get a permit before you burn something in public?” That will be my little addition to the lesson, the bit of knowledge I learned on my own, that I added to the family tree of knowledge. Think of how that advice will serve a dual purpose, how it might save him a trip to the jailhouse during college.

Now for foraging. I thought, “That’s going to be a tough one.” My instinct was to say, “NEVER, ever forage in the city.” But come on. Be creative. We’ll visit all of the fruit and nut vendors on Wall Street. They’d never deny a little kid a free sample. I’ll say, “Son, if the vendor isn’t willing to eat one, don’t buy it.”

Firing a rifle? We can let his grandpa handle that one.

Roasting marshmallows? That was an easy one. We’ll use the gas stove range. But what about a roasting stick? I’ll teach him to steal a hanger from the dry cleaner’s recycle bin. I’ll tell him, “Don’t use painted hangars; you might get lead poisoning.” Then I’ll show him how to unwind the hanger into a make-shift roasting stick. “Always rotate your marshmallow,” I’ll say. “Otherwise you’ll set off the smoke detector.” Yep, I thought, I got that one covered.

As far as a snipe hunt goes, I’ll have to wait until his friends sucker him. I figure even Park Slope must have a local version of the snipe hunt. The problem is whether or not the hunt is on the Prospect Park Pond or the Gowanus. Snipes always live close to water.

Seriously. I’ll have to teach Nico how to trap rats and take a rabies shot or how to make a bio hazard suit? I cannot say that I am looking forward to that one.

I thought of his future lessons in comparison to mine and felt humbled that they would pale to those my grandfather gave me, But I suppose my grandfather felt the same way comparing the advice he gave me and what he got on how to feed his family off the land, since he knew I would probably never have to worry. Nico’s memories will be his own I suppose and he’ll know I gave him what I know. Hell, my grandfather’s father was a bone dry Lutheran and Grandpa taught me how to distill my own grain alcohol. Speaking of which, Nico, here’s one to remember: “Never go cheap on booze, shoes, and toilet paper."


Andrew Hunter lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with his wife and son. He is the Community Manager and a Featured Reviewer for fav&co. He also writes fiction. But no one has yet to deem his make believe stories fit to publish. Someday.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Dad Vlogger: How Do You Tie a Mover's Knot?

Thanks to guest Dad vlogger Peter Valentine for showing us how to tie camping gear to the roof of the car - using the versatile "Mover's Knot".

You can visit Peter at his wesbite,, or stalk him on Twitter @peterbvalentine.

You may also like:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bread Salad or Panzanella

 From The Real Family Camping Cookbook:

A cool dish for a hot afternoon. We usually have steak and Italian bread the first night of camping, and then use the leftover bread to make this delicious, healthy and kid-friendly salad the next day for lunch. It's easy, too!

Bread Salad or Panzanella

Serves:  4

4 cups of leftover Italian bread, cubed
1 large tomato, diced
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
½ of a red or yellow onion, sliced thinly
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1 anchovy, chopped
½ c. of fresh basil leaves
sliced, black olives, as desired
½ c. of olive oil
the juice of 1 lemon
salt & pepper

1.  Make the salad dressing: Pour the olive oil and lemon juice into a jar with a screw top.  Add the garlic and the anchovy and shake well.  Salt and pepper to taste.
2.  Put the cubed bread in a pot and drizzle with about half of the dressing.  Toss it well to coat the bread.
3.  Add the tomato, cucumber, onion and basil leaves and the rest of the salad dressing and toss gently.
4.  Serve with salt & pepper.

“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.” - Omar Khayyam

Monday, June 6, 2011

Birds, Groundhogs and Kid's Stuff: Maine Audubon Center has it all


Although I’ve visited Portland, Maine and the surrounding areas many times, this weekend I went someplace I’ve never been: The Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in nearby Falmouth, Maine.
Bee hives

The Gilsland Farm Audubon center is just five minutes from Portland, and is Maine Audubon’s headquarters.  It has a large, modern environmental center with a well-curated Children's Discovery Room and a 65-acre wildlife sanctuary that includes more than 2 miles of trails.

The view from Pond Meadow Trail

We chose the Pond Meadow trail, which winded through the forest, past ancient, fallen trees and striking metal sculptures by artist Wendy Klemperer, and led us out to the salt marsh.
Sculpture by artist Wendy Klemperer

Serious birders frequent the Center. We are groundhog enthusiasts, so in the notebook at the front desk where you write down which birds you spotted, we wrote, “groundhog.” (We saw one with badger markings on his face. Maybe we should keep our own log.)

The Children's Discovery Room

The Center offers hundreds of programs to the public year-round, including day camps during the summer and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing during the winter. The Center is high on my list for future visits. 

Visit the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center here:

And the art of Wendy Klemperer here:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Retro Recipe: Campers' Coffee Cake

I'm just posting this because I like the clothespins.  Betty thinks of everything.

And you gotta love that the recipe has only one ingredient: Betty Crocker muffin mix.  I respect that.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How Do You Pick a Campsite?

Site 42, somewhere in New Jersey

Where to camp, where to camp?

If you're like us, you're looking for something simple in a campsite - just a shady, little lot to call home for a few days. To pick one, we look around on the internet, call up a bunch of campgrounds and then we reserve a site without seeing it, except on an aerial map. (Check out, or google "state parks camping" and you'll find what you need. Sometimes we camp in private campgrounds, too. Try or KOA, or just google "private campgrounds" and you'll turn them up.)  We like a campground with features for kids, like nature trails, a playground and a lake or pool to swim in. Most campgrounds have ice in the front office and many have a snack bar or ice cream stand, too. That works for us.

After you look around for a while, you'll find a campground that you like. Maybe a friend recommended it or maybe there were a lot of pictures on the website, or you got a good feeling from the people who run the place. Yes, you need to talk to the people in the front office of the campground - that's probably the most important tip! Because not all campsites are created equally. Some have more privacy, some have a better layout (where you can park your car off to one side, for example), and some are bigger. So after you've looked at the maps and the photos and turned your laptop upside down to try to figure out which way the ocean is, talk to the people who run the place. Tell them what your needs are and ask their opinion. Try not to be too annoying about it and they will probably help you out.

Make sure your site has trees and shade. A little grass is nice, too, but don't camp in a meadow, or you'll get ticks. The site should be level, but raised up a little bit so it doesn't flood when it rains. (And if you're like us, it will rain every time you go camping.)

A view is nice. In fact, any view! We had a campsite once with a view of a big meadow with cows in it. That was nice. Of course there was an electric fence surrounding the whole thing. We found that out the hard way.

Avoid platform campsites - that means they've built a platform on a hillside to make a level area for your tent. The rest of the campsite will be on a slant. That means your kids will go tumbling down the hill every five minutes, like Jack and Jill.

If you're tent camping, get a site with the other tents, not the RVs. It's kind of unsettling to be sandwiched between two giant RVs in your humble, little tent. Especially when they get to watch The Biggest Loser and you don't. 

Some people like to be closer to or further away from the bathrooms (depending on how often and when you need to go) but it's always good to be close to a water source to fill up your jugs with free water. You can usually see the water spigots on a map. We also try to choose a site not too far from  whatever amenity we think the kids are going to like the most, like the beach, pool or playground. Avoid campsites near the dump.

Get to the campground on the early side. If you get there in a timely manner and you hate your campsite, you might be able to change it.  But at 6pm, probably not. (And just so you know, we never get anywhere early. But don't be like us.) Oh, and I know this is obvious, but be nice to the nice campground people. They don't have to give you a different site, but they probably will.

I think our best campsite yet was at the Recompense campground in Freeport, Maine. It was a nice campground but what made it so great is that our friends up there went to the campground and scouted it out for us. They chose a site that was large and set back from the road, so we had lots of room and some privacy, too. I know you probably won't have local friends where you go camping, but it's great if you can you scout out a site beforehand.

While you're camping, check out the other sites in the campground for future trips. And when you're on the highway and you see a sign for a campground, take the exit and check it out. Drive the whole loop of the campground and write down the numbers of the sites you like. Sure, you may never go back there ... or you may! Like, next weekend.

And remember, there probably is no perfect campsite, so just pick one that feels right, set up your tent and have fun. And don't touch the fence!